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[Hunger Alert] GENERAL (Philippines): Soldiers burn houses, blocks food supply for over 34,000 displaced families in Maguindanao

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to draw your attention to the continuing food blockade the military has imposed in Maguindanao thereby depriving over 34,000 families of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of their food rations. The military are deliberately preventing food and relief goods that relief organizations are trying to deliver by holding them at check points.

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - HUNGER ALERT PROGRAMME

Hunger Alert General: AHRC-HAG-003-2009


4 June 2009
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PHILIPPINES: Soldiers burn houses, blocks food supply for over 34,000 displaced families in Maguindanao

ISSUES: Internally displaced persons; right to food
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Dear Friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to draw your attention to the continuing food blockade the military has imposed in Maguindanao thereby depriving over 34,000 families of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of their food rations. The military are deliberately preventing food and relief goods that relief organizations are trying to deliver by holding them at check points.

CASE DETAILS: (According to information received from the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC))

On 28th May 2009, during a coordination meeting among the humanitarian agencies and leaders of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Cotabato City, complaints were raised that the military had been undermining the relief operations by deciding and controlling when and how much relief they should only be giving away.

Also, it is reported that truck-loads of rice intended for the IDPs and 11 truckloads of relief goods from the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) had not reached the evacuees in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, as they were held up at military checkpoints on May 27 and May 5 respectively.

The military has not provided any reasonable explanations to the relief organizations as to why they are preventing the entry of food and relief supplies. The actions by the military is typical and even reminiscent of the decades of perpetual practice of preventing entry of food supplies intended for the IDPs on the pretext that they would end up being passed onto or consumed by the rebels themselves.

The relief organization who has been actively involved in the MPC’s work, reported that of the 50,333 internally displaced families in Maguindanao needing food and relief supplies, only 15,522 families had been able to receive assistance. Apart from these, there have also been civilians who are trapped in the municipality of Datu Piang, Maguindanao and effectively cut off from any outside help and contact.

On May 31, another 200 families fled their houses. This is in addition to the 6,277 families of IDPs who were reported to have fled from their village last week. Once again, the latest evacuation had been prompted by the recent fighting between government militias and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels and the subsequent burning of several houses belonging to civilians.

The military’s action is contrary to the provisions of the United National Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID), to which the Philippine government is under obligation to implement and observe. Principle 10 and 25 of the UNGPID clearly stipulates that "Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) shall be protected, in particular against starvation as a form of combat" and that the "authorities concerned shall grant and facilitate the free passage of humanitarian assistance and grant persons engaged in the provision of such assistance rapid and unimpeded access to the internally displaced" respectively.

Apart from being denied food, there are also reports that the military had burned houses of some civilians in remote villages in the municipalities of Datu Piang in Maguindanao and in Midsayap, North Cotabato. The AHRC has already been informed of the victim's account of these incidents and is collecting further details. However, despite the gravity of the violence taking place there, the affected victims have since been too frightened to pursue complaints against the soldiers.

It is because this latest incident of burning took place after villagers in Nunangan in Talayan, also in Maguindanao, filed complaints of arson on May 7 against the soldiers before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Region 12. They have accused soldiers as having been responsible for torching about 150 houses of civilians in their community. According to a report from Bantay Ceasefire, a community-based grassroots organization that monitors the implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF, at least 92 houses had also been burned in the village of Macasendig in the town of Midsayap, North Cotabato.

Since the conflict in some parts of Mindanao began afresh in August 2008, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has launched a military offensive against the rebel commanders of the MILF. Since then, a large number of these IDPs have been forced to remain in cramped evacuation centers, government buildings and schoolhouses, as they are waiting to return to their respective villages.

On 10th March 2009, the sister organization of the AHRC, Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC), expressed serious concern in its Oral Statement to the 10th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, over the military practice of denying entry of food and the relief supplies intended to IDPs. For further details please read: ALRC-COS-10-16-2009

You may also refer to the chapter in the 2008 report on the Philippines in 2008, entitled the "the Human Cost of Insecurity", which the AHRC published in the occasion of the International Human Rights Day.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write letters to the concerned authorities below requesting them to immediately conduct an inquiry into allegations that the soldiers are blocking food supplies and relief goods to evacuees. These supplies should immediately be made available to them; and that the military must be sanctioned if it is proved that are continuing to do so.

Also the complaints of arson, which the civilians filed against soldiers accused of having been responsible for the burning hundreds of houses in the villages of Talayan, Maguindanao and Midsayap, North Cotabato respectively, must be resolved promptly.

The AHRC has also written letters to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, on adequate housing and the independent expert on minority issues for their appropriate intervention.

To support this appeal, please click here: 

Dear __________,

Re: PHILIPPINES: Soldiers burns houses, blocks food supplies for over 34,000 displaced families in Maguindanao

Number of affected families deprived of food supply: Over 34,000 families of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) coming from remote villages in the municipalities of Datu Piang and Talayan, all in Maguindanao
Status of their case: It is reported that food supplies and relief goods intended for IDPs in the areas mentioned are being held at military checkpoints to prevent them from reaching the evacuees for distribution. There have also been reports of government forces have been burning houses belonging to civilians.

I am writing to express my grave concern over the military's action of blocking the distribution of food supplies and relief goods to over 34,000 families of IDPs in the municipality of Datu Piang, Maguindanao. I fail to comprehend the reasons as to why the soldiers justify their actions that would effectively result in starving the IDPs who were forced to vacate their houses due to the fighting between the Moro Liberation Front and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

As you are aware, the rights and welfare of the IDPs are clearly stipulated in Principle 10 and 25 of the National Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID), which obligate the government to prevent IDPs from suffering starvation as a result of the conflict; and the humanitarian assistance, are made available to them, amongst others.

However, the military's action, in particular that of May 27 and May 5 of this year wherein the truck-loads of rice intended for IDPs and the 11 truckloads of relief goods from the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) respectively were held at military checkpoints, is completely unacceptable. The actions by the military is typical and even reminiscent of the decades of perpetual practice of preventing entry of food supplies intended for the IDPs on the pretext that they would end up being passed onto or consumed by the rebels themselves.

There is no reasonable justification whatsoever to block food supplies and relief goods for evacuees who are in desperate need of these supplies. Failure on the part of the government, in particular the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), who has direct jurisdiction over the soldiers deployed in these areas, would made them effectively complicit of starving these civilians, in particular those who are vulnerable—the children, women and the elderly.

I therefore urge the concerned authorities to promptly investigate these incidents, and if it is proved that the soldiers have deliberately blocked food supplies, appropriate legal action must be taken against these soldiers and their superiors responsible for carrying out these measures.

Also, I urge you to ensure that the complaint by the civilians of arson by the soldiers who are accused of having been involved in burning over a hundred of houses in the municipality of Talayan, Maguindanao and in Midsayap, North Cotabato is investigated. I have been informed that the complaint has already been filed with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Region 12.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
President
Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
JP Laurel Street, San Miguel
Manila 1005
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 736 1010
Tel: +63 2 735 6201 / 564 1451 to 80
E-mail: corres@op.gov.ph

2. Ms. Leila De Lima
Commissioner
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 929 0102
Tel: +63 2 928 5655 / 926 6188
E-mail: chr.delima@yahoo.com or mtm_rodulfo@yahoo.com

3. Deputy Director General Jesus A. Verzosa
Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP)
Camp General Rafael Crame
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2724 8763
Tel: +63 2 726 4361/4366/8763
E-mail: bluetree73@gmail.com

4. Mr. Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr.
Secretary
Department of National Defense
Room 301 DND Building, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo,
E. de los Santos Avenue
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63(2) 911-9281 / 911-0488
Fax: +63(2) 911 6213
E-mail: osnd@philonline.com

5. Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano
Chief of Staff
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
AFP-GHQ Offices, Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 911 6436
Tel: +63 2 911 6001 to 50

6. Mr. Emilio Gonzalez
Deputy Ombudsman
Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military
and Other Law Enforcement Offices
3rd Floor, Ombudsman Bldg., Agham Road, Diliman
1104 Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 926 8747
Tel: +63 2 926 9032

7. Dr. Esperanza I. Cabral
Secretary
Department of Social Welfare and Development
DSWD Bldg., Constitution Hills, Batasan Complex,
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2 931 8101 / 2 931 8107
Fax: +63 2 931 8191
E-mail: eicabral@dswd.gov.ph

8. Stephen L. Anderson
Country Director of World Food Programme
5/F JAKA 2 Building, 150 Legaspi St.
Legaspi Village, Makati City, Metro Manila
PHILIPPINES
Tel: + 63 2 750 2561 / 2 751 9166 / 2 894 2730
Fax: + 63 2 750 2562
E-mail: WFP.Manila@wfp.org

Thank you.

Huger Alert Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

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